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Taking Care of Your Body and Immunity Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle


“Boosting your immune system” is a hot topic these days. Walk into any health food store, or even some sections of a regular grocery store, and you’ll be bombarded by a vast array of minimally-regulated supplements claiming to enhance your immune system. There’s no shortage of “fitness influencers,” podcast hosts, popular authors, and other celebrities calling for people to prioritize spending their money on vitamins, minerals, and other concoctions to “boost their immunity” with little to no evidence, or dubious/cherry-picked studies backing their claims. Fortunately for our wallets, most of these things are mostly placebos at best. 


Thankfully, keeping our immune systems functioning well is determined more by consistently making the same basic healthy lifestyle choices we need to keep all of the other parts of our body functioning well, including nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management. This is great news because, aside from specific vaccines for specific diseases, we don’t have to devote any special activity or spend money on specifically improving our immune system. All of the systems of our body are interrelated and improving one thing usually has positive downstream effects on everything else. 


Nutrition can be a complicated topic, but to boil it down to the essentials, the most important things would be to eat an overall amount of food that helps us achieve and maintain a healthy body composition (which for many of us means dieting to lose weight), while including adequate amounts of protein and a diverse selection of veggies and fruits. The easiest way to do this is to eat mostly whole, minimally-processed foods. There are no “bad” foods that everyone should eliminate, but diets that are higher in more processed foods often make it harder to avoid overeating and are usually lower in important nutrients. Rather than focusing on avoiding “bad foods”, focus on including more home cooked meals composed of single ingredient-foods. Most Americans fail to meet the recommended intake of at least 5 daily servings of vegetables, so for many of us there is a lot of improvement to be made by just adding a couple fist-sized servings of veggies into one or two of our meals. 


Building and maintaining muscle mass may just seem like a vain quest to look better or be more athletic, but resistance training doesn’t just build muscles, it improves the health of the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, and has direct benefits on the immune system. Similarly, maintaining adequate amounts of aerobic activity will help keep all of these systems functioning as well. Most Americans fail to meet the CDC’s recommended guidelines of a minimum of 2 resistance training workouts per week, as well as the aerobic guidelines of 150 minutes of low-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. If more of us got in a couple strength-building workouts each week and the equivalent of a 30-minute walk 5 days per week, we’d see a vast improvement in our immune health.


Sleep and stress management also play huge roles in our immune function. There are a lot of factors to account for with these, but the recommendation of 7-9 hours of sleep each night is a good goal for most people to aim for. The most effective strategies for improving sleep are to have as consistent of a schedule as you are able, especially with the time you wake up, and ideally having some intentional wind-down time before you go to bed. Managing stress is a pretty individualized thing, but making sure to have some time to relax and enjoy life is important, and thankfully can be paired with some of the other things mentioned in this article, for example, going for walks or a sharing a home cooked meal with family.


If you are already taking advantage of these low hanging fruits of good nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management, you are already doing great. However, in many ways our culture and lifestyles can make these things quite challenging, and making changes to our routine behavior patterns can be difficult alone. Working with a coach, such as the wellness coaches and personal trainers at the YMCA, can be a major help in getting the guidance, support, and accountability needed to dial these habits in and set your immune system and the rest of your body on a trajectory of long term health. 


Tommy Distefano is a personal trainer and health/nutrition coach at the Downtown YMCA, as well as a Capoeira instructor. 

Category: Health & Wellness
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Tommy Distefano is a NCSF-certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition level 1 nutrition coach, ACE-certified health coach, and an instructor in Capoeira Angola, the traditional folk sport from Brazil with elements of self-defense, acrobatics, and music. Tommy spent 11 years working as a direct support staff for developmentally disabled adults before joining the Downtown YMCA team as a personal trainer, wellness coach and occasional group fitness instructor in 2018.

Tommy spends his free time lifting weights, training capoeira, doing yoga, playing drums, and working with his number one client, Bob the Blue Heeler.